Why the godfather of the electric car relies on public transport

It has been a difficult few years for Andy Palmer, and not just because of the pandemic. The former CEO of Aston Martin left the company under a cloud in May 2020, two years after a rocky IPO. Now, 18 months later, Palmer has taken a change of pace, dedicating what he calls the “twilight years of my career” to saving the planet through Switch Mobility, the electric bus and van start-up of which he was. appointed general manager in July.

Palmer’s rise to the role of managing director of one of the world’s best-known luxury car companies began in the heyday of British automobile manufacturing. To grow in Stratford-upon-AvonPalmer left school at age 15 to become an engineering apprentice, before starting work at Austin Rover in 1986. He spent 23 years with Nissan, 15 of them in Japan, where he was appointed COO of the company in 2013. He oversaw production of the Nissan Leaf, which, as the first mass-market electric vehicle and for five years the best-selling model in the world, marked the beginning of the electric car era. .

At the time, however, Carlos Ghosn seemed a permanent fixture at the top of Renault-Nissan – “at one point there is no room on the ladder,” Palmer said. Automotive News in 2014 – when Aston Martin was without a CEO. Palmer left Nissan to run Britain’s most prestigious car brand, the James Bond automaker, but the glamor was dispelled on its first day. When he took the reins in October 2014, day one of the company’s fourth quarter, the CFO pulled Palmer aside and told him that Aston was on the verge of breaching its promises – “of course.” other words, we would be bankrupt by the end of the year ”.

“It was a bit of a shock after 23 years at Nissan,” he said. “He didn’t have a product plan, and he didn’t have a future.”

Palmer’s first move was to create “specials,” a line of limited-edition vehicles sold to select buyers – and which required large cash deposits. Then he began to develop his range, including the DBX SUV, and licensed his brand on products including a star and condos In Miami. This strategy was downright mocked at the time, but it worked: In February 2018, Aston Martin reported a 87 million pounds in profit, his first since 2010. “For the first four years, I was the hero in every newspaper… after turning this iconic company around and making it profitable,” he said.

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Then, in October 2018, Aston Martin Lagonda went public on the London Stock Exchange. Shares started at £ 19 each but fell to £ 17.75 on the first day of trading. Palmer was dismissive. “It took 105 years to get an IPO. I don’t think we will worry about what the stocks do initially, ”he said at the time.

But they continued to slide. Aston had borrowed to finance a new plant in Wales, which was to produce the DBX. In January 2020, Canadian fashion billionaire Lawrence Stroll injected £ 182 million in exchange for a 16.7 percent stake in the company – and for being chairman of its board. Stroll’s plans included the postponement of Aston’s electric car program. By the time Palmer left, in May of last year, the stocks had fallen 90 percent since its IPO.

Palmer is understandably on the defensive about his time at Aston. “The company was still much more valuable when I left than when I first started,” he said. “The company had a whole new line of vehicles. The company had two factories instead of one. So I can count a lot of positives, including its ability to survive Covid. “

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What does he think of Stroll? In the Netflix documentary series Formula One Drive to survive, the Canadian is presented as some kind of pantomime villain, who buys the Racing Point F1 team and then puts his son in one of the two pilot seats. “I dealt with him throughout the transaction process and was not close enough to him, at the end of the day, to be able to form a reasonable opinion,” Palmer said. Law.

Palmer is the first to admit that it won’t be easy to persuade consumers to ditch the combustion engine. Its daily race is a Volkswagen ID.3 – “not the most exciting car in the world” but “it is the only electric car that is net zero carbon”. His hobby, however, is motor racing. For the 24 hour races in which he participates, “I drive internal combustion engines,” he admitted, guilty. His garage has four Aston Martins – five, soon, “when the Valkyrie arrives.” By that he means the limited-production £ 2.5million supercar which creation he oversaw, the first of which was eventually produced in November This year.

However, after Aston, Palmer “went back to my roots”: electric vehicles.

It takes a fiercely liberal approach to going to net zero. It is not for governments to “pick a tech winner,” he said. The last time they did that, “the government told us all to buy diesels”, which ended badly. “You have these unintended consequences.”

The Flic26 commitment ending the production of internal combustion engines by 2040 “has been a failure” – “only six manufacturers have registered”, he stressed.

“If you are going to tell companies like Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai that the only solution is EVs, you will only get one answer, which is no, because they know there are other technological solutions which are better in some cases. They are the experts.

Switch might not have Aston Martin’s glamor, but Palmer has big plans for it. He said it was the “world’s first net zero automaker,” building its vehicles with sustainable energy. He wants people to recognize his vehicles. “I would like that eventually to be seen in the world of buses and vans a bit like Tesla,” he said. “I want people… to choose to hop on a Switch bus.”

Its mission, he said, is to “democratize net zero”. “Electric cars are still expensive, but anyone can afford to take a bus, even in places like India – a lot of our sales come from India – so you are democratizing the ability to live well. “

But, unlike London’s so-called Boris buses, these will have windows that open fully – right? He grimaced. “What I will say is when you open the window you increase the drag,” he said. Hmm. You can take the man out of the supercar builder – but it’s not clear that you can get the supercar builder out of the man.

[See also: “Covid has revealed a lot of nonsense about work”: the CEO who moved his bank to a four-day week]

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